View Full Version : Mote In God's Eye, The - Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

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06-07-2007, 08:25 PM
Chapter 34 - Trespassers

Whitbread and Potter stood alone within the dome. They stared in wonder.
The dome was only a shell. A single light source very like an afternoon sun blazed halfway down its slope. Moties used that kind of illumination in many of the buildings Whitbread had seen.
Underneath the dome it was like a small city-but not quite. Nobody was home. There was no sound, no motion, no light in any of the windows. And the buildings...
There was no coherency to this city. The buildings jarred horribly against each other. Whitbread winced at two- clean-lined many-windowed pillars framing what might have been an oversized medieval cathedral, all gingerbread, a thousand cornices guarded by what Bury's Motie had said were Motie demons.
Here were a hundred styles of architecture and at least a dozen levels of technology. Those geodesic forms could not have been built without prestressed concrete or something more sophisticated, not to mention the engineering mathematics. But this building nearest the gate was of sun-baked mud bricks. Here a rectangular solid had walls of partly silvered glass; there the walls were of gray stone, and the tiny windows had no glass in them, only shutters to seal them from the elements.
"Rain shutters. It must have been here before the dome," Potter said.
"Anyone can see that. The dome is almost new. That cathedral, it might be, that cathedral in the center is so old it's about to fall apart."
"Look there. Yon parabolic-hyperboloid structure has been cantilevered out from a wall. But look at the wall!"
"Yah, it must have been part of another building. God knows how old that is." The wall was over a meter thick, and ragged around the edges and the top. It was made of dressed stone blocks that must have massed five hundred kilos each. Some vinelike plant had invaded it, surrounded it, permeated it to the extent that by now it must be holding the wall together.
Whitbread leaned close and peered into the vines. "No cement, Gavin. They've fitted the blocks together. And still it supports the rest of the building-which is concrete. They built to last."
"Do ye remember what Horst said about the Stone Beehive?"
"He said he could feel the age in it. Right. Right..."
"It must be of all different ages, this place. I think we'll find that it's a museum. A museum of architecture? And they've added to it, century after century. Finally they threw up that dome to protect it from the elements."
"Ye sound dubious."
"That dome is two meters thick, and metal. What kind of elements..."
"Asteroid -- falls, it may be. No, that's nonsense. The asteroids were moved away eons ago."
"I think I want to have a look at that cathedral. It looks to be the oldest building here."

The cathedral was a museum right enough. Any civilized man in the Empire would have recognized it. Museums are all alike.
There were cases faced in glass, and old things within, marked by plaques- with dates and printing on them. "I can read the numbers," said Potter. "Look, they're in four and five figures. And this is base twelve!"
"My Motie asked me once how old our recorded civilization is. How old is theirs, Gavin?"
"Well, their year is shorter...Five figures. Dating backward from some event; that's a minus sign in front of each of them. Let me see..." He took out his computer and scrawled quick, precise figures. "That number would be seventy-four thousand and some-odd. Jonathon, the plaques are almost new."
"Languages change. They must translate the plaques every so often."
"Yes...yes, I know this sign. 'Approximately.'" Potter moved swiftly from exhibit to exhibit. "Here it is again. Not here...but here. Jonathon, come look at this one."
It was a, very old machine. Once iron, it must be rust now, all the way through. There was a sketch of what it must have looked like once. A howitzer cannon.
"Here on the plaque. This double-approximation sign means educated guesswork. I wonder how many times that legend has been translated."
Room after room. They found a wide staircase leading up, the steps shallow but broad enough for human feet. Above, more rooms, more exhibits. The ceilings were low. The lighting came from lines of bulbs of incandescent filaments that came on when they entered, went out when they left. The bulbs were mounted carefully so they wouldn't mar the ceiling. The museum itself must be an exhibit.
The plaques were all alike, but the cases were all different. Whitbread did not think it strange. No two Motie artifacts were ever precisely alike. But one...he almost laughed. -- -
A bubble of glass several meters long and two meters wide rested on a free-form sculpted frame of almost beach-colored metal. Both, looked brand-new. There was a plaque on the frame. Inside was an ornately carved wooden box, coffin sized, bleached white by age, its lid the remains of a rusted wire grille. It had a plaque. Under the rusted wire, a selection of wonderfully shaped, eggshell-thin pottery, some broken, some whole. Each piece in the set had a dated plaque. "It's like nested exhibits," he said.
Potter did not laugh. "That's what it is. See here? The bubble case is about two thousand years old...that can't be right, can it?"
"Not unless...". Whitbread rubbed his class ring along the glass bubble. "They're both scratched. Artificial sapphire." He tried it on the metal. The metal scratched the stone. "I'll accept two thousand."
"But the box is around twenty-four hundred, and the pottery goes from three thousand up. Look you how the style changes. 'Tis a depiction of the rise and fall of a particular school of pottery styling."
"Do you think the wooden case came out of another museum?"
Whitbread did laugh then. They moved on. Presently Whitbread pointed and said, "Here, that's the same metal, isn't it?" The small two-handed weapon-it had to be a gun-carried the same date as the sapphire bubble.
Beyond that was a puzzling structure near the wail of the great dome. It was made of a vertical lacework of hexagons, each formed from steel members two meters long. There were thick plastic frames in some of the hexagons, and broken fragments in others.
Potter pointed out the gentle curve of the structure. "'Twas another dome. A spherical dome with geodesic bracing. Not much left of it-and it wouldn't hae covered all of the compound anyway."
"You're right. It didn't weather away, though. Look at how these members near the edge are twisted. Tornadoes? This part of the country seems fiat enough."
It took Potter a moment to understand. There were no tornadoes in the rough terraformed New Scotland. He remembered his meteorology lessons and nodded. "Aye. Maybe. Maybe." Beyond the fragments of the earlier dome Potter found a framework of disintegrating metal within what might have been a plastic shell. The plastic itself looked frayed and motheaten. There were two dates on the plaque, both in five figures. The sketch next to the plaque showed a narrow ground car, primitive looking, with three seats in a row. The motor hood was open.
"Internal combustion," said Potter. "I had the idea that Mote Prime was short on fossil fuels."
"Sally had an idea on that too. Their civilization may have gone downhill when they used up all their fossil fuels. I wonder."
But the prize was behind a great glass picture window in one wall. They found themselves looking into the "steeple" past an ancient, ornately carved bronze plaque that had a smaller plaque on it.
Within the "steeple" was a rocket ship. Despite the holes in the sides and the corrosion everywhere, it still held its shape: a long, cylindrical tank, very thin-walled, with a cabin showing behind a smoothly pointed nose.
They made for the stairs. There must be another window on the first floor...
And there was. They knelt to look into the motor.
Potter said, "I don't quite..."
"NERVA style," said Whitbread. His voice was almost a whisper. "Atomic. Very early type. You send some inert fuel through a core of uranium or plutonium or the like. Fission pile, prefusion..."
"Are you sure?"
Whitbread looked again before he nodded. "I'm sure."
Fission had been developed after internal combustion; but there were still places in the Empire that employed internal combustion engines. Fission power was very nearly a myth, and as they stared the age of the place seemed to fail from the walls like a cloak and wrap them in silence.

The plane landed near the orange rags of a parachute and the remains of a cone. The open doorway was an accusing mouth just beyond.
Whitbread's Motie jumped from the plane and rushed over to the cone. She twittered, and the pilot bounded from the ship to join her. "They opened it," Whitbread's Motie said. "I never thought Jonathon would solve it. It must have been Potter. Horst, is there any chance at all they didn't go inside?"
Staley shook his head.
The Motie twittered to the Brown again. "Watch for aircraft, Horst," Whiitbread's Motie said. She spoke to the other Brown-and-white, who left the airplane and stared at the skies.
The Brown picked up Whitbread's empty pressure suit and armor. She worked rapidly, shaping something to take the place of the missing helmet and closing the suit top. Then she worked on the air regenerator, picking at the insides with tools from a belt pouch. The suit inflated and was set upright. Presently the Brown closed the panel and the suit was taut, like a man in vacuum. She tied lengths of line to constrict the shoulders and punched a hole at each wrist.
The empty man raised his arms to the Sound of hissing air blowing out the wrist holes. The pressure dropped and the arms fell. Another spurt of hissing, and the arms rose again...
"That ought to do it," Whitbread's Motie said. "We set your suit up the same way, and raised the temperature to your body normal. With luck they may blast it without checking to see if you're in it."
"Blast it?"
"We sure can't count on it, though. I wish there were some way to make it fire on an aircraft..."
Staley shook the Motie's shoulder. The Brown stood by watching with the tiny half-smile that meant nothing at all. The equatorial sun was high overhead. "Why would anyone want to kill us?" Staley demanded.
"You're all under death sentence, Horst."
"But why? Is it the dome? Is there a taboo?"
"The dome, yes. Taboo, no. What do you take us for primitives? You know too much, that's all. Dead you-name-its tell no tales. Now come on, we've got to find them and get out of here."
Whitbread's Motie stooped to get under the door. Needlessly: but Whitbread would have stooped. The other Brown-and-white followed silently, leaving the Brown standing outside, her face a perpetual gentle smile.